Three Common EAP Purchasing Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

May 2, 2017
EAP Insights

EAPs are getting a lot of attention these days. As employee well-being and workplace engagement have become top-of-mind for business leaders, EAPs have been increasingly recognized as an affordable way to offer effective, real-world solutions. However, buyers face a sea of options and it can be tough to distinguish the average from the awesome.

To help you choose wisely, here are three common mistakes buyers make and some tips to help avoid them.

Mistake #1: Choosing an “EAP” Offered Through a Non-Specialty Provider

The market is overrun with services claiming to be EAPs. Health insurance carriers, disability providers, workers’ compensation, and even payroll companies commonly package an 800 number and basic counseling support as an adjunct to their core product. These programs are marketed as EAPs. Some are even offered for free. Others are available for a small fee. Sounds great, right?

Think again. These programs aren’t EAPs at all.

A true EAP offers three layers of support:

  1. Expert clinical and work-life balance services for individuals.
  2. Performance management and coaching support for supervisors.
  3. High-level workplace consultation and assistance (think training, crisis management, policy development, etc.).

Most programs offered through a carrier or benefits provider are completely devoid of important supervisor and workplace support. What’s more, these programs offer little to no customization, promotion, utilization reporting, or program management. Finally, services are typically only available to plan members, leaving the rest of your employees with no coverage at all.

Tip: Leave it to the experts

EAP is not insurance. It certainly isn’t payroll. In fact, we argue EAP isn’t a benefit at all, but rather a risk management strategy. When shopping for an EAP, think of the employee and workplace situations you, your supervisors, and your HR team have encountered over the years. Do you want an EAP to simply check a box, or do you need a partner to help solve real problems – the kind that seep into the workplace and keep you up at night?

Mistake #2: Selecting your EAP from a spreadsheet

Most traditional EAPs provide the same core deliverables. We all look the same on paper. You want six sessions? Check. You want work-life balance services? Check. You want on-site activities and a nice website? Check. Check.

So, what makes one EAP better than another? Its people and its service philosophy. A quality EAP comes down to experience, expertise, and outstanding customer service. However, you can’t evaluate those things on a spreadsheet.

Unfortunately, many buyers only ask two questions when researching and comparing EAPs: “What’s included?” and “What does it cost?” The resulting spreadsheet makes it hard to know what they’re really getting.

Simply put, picking an EAP off a spreadsheet is like hiring a new employee without meeting them just because they have a nice résumé.

Tip: Ask the right questions

Ask EAP competitors about their people and practices to uncover what kind of experience and results you and your employees can expect. Will they really deliver on their promises?

  • Are EAP services their specialty or a side business?
  • What is the background and expertise of their staff and providers?
  • How do they recruit and retain top talent?
  • What is their case management philosophy, especially regarding high-risk and workplace referrals?
  • Ask for examples of how the vendor has helped other customers.
  • Ask for and check their references.

Mistake #3: Choosing your EAP based on price

Let’s be honest. When was the last time you got something of real value for the lowest price? As with most purchases, you may not need the most expensive option, but you do need something reliable. The same is true of your EAP. Why?

Why? At some point, most everyone experiences an issue that causes stress and disruption. What’s more, employees don’t leave their problems at the door when they come to work. This affects the mood in the office, work quality, customer relationships, and more.

An EAP is an investment in your people and your business because it provides professional support to get employees and work groups back on track. Here’s the catch: program results are directly linked to program quality. It should come as no surprise that program quality and program price are also linked.

When you select your EAP based on price, you leave yourself open to issues such as inadequate program promotion, limited service deliverables, low utilization, and poor customer service. This is because EAPs are typically offered for a capitated, per-employee per-month rate. The vendor holds the risk. As a result, they are motivated to do as little work as possible because they are being paid very little.

At that point, even though your EAP may have been a lower-cost option, you’re still paying good money for a bad service and getting nothing in return.

Tip: Think big picture

Rather than focusing solely on price, think about the cost of not having a quality program.

What happens when a challenging personal issue distracts an employee? What if it’s a superstar, supervisor, or other critical employee? What if their problem persists? What if the problem poses a safety issue or other liability? Consider the financial implications.

A quality EAP provides immediate access to care, and can resolve most issues within the scope of the program. This helps expedite the employee’s return to a more productive state. It also means most cases never result in a mental healthcare claim on your health insurance.

What resources do your supervisors and HR team have to help deal with difficult workplace situations?

Workplace violence, crisis, major organizational change, and sensitive cultural, social, and political issues often require an experienced, outside perspective. Odds are, that low-cost EAP offers little or no high-level workplace support.

Considering how valuable your employees are, can you really afford a cheap EAP?

A high-quality EAP has been shown to reduce employee absenteeism, increase workplace engagement, and improve culture. To discuss your EAP options further, let’s connect: Request Consultation.

Post Written by

Director, Business Development

Lesley has extensive experience consulting on employee assistance programs (EAPs) and continues to develop concrete solutions for organizations across various industries and sizes. Through her involvement and dedication, she provides valuable insight on how EAP programs can be effective and impactful for organizations and individuals.